2015 / Director. Eli Roth.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Once upon a time Eli Roth was one of a new generation of film wunderkind that had the hopes of a stalling genre heaped on their shoulders. The glut of self-aware, ironic teen horror through the 90s was diminishing and the Gorenography sub-genre was the shot of adrenaline it needed to sustain it for a couple more years. His HOSTEL films helped push the mainstream horror genre to new boundaries and after cementing a friendship with Quentin Tarantino he became all but a household name.
HOSTEL 2 was a long time ago though and with his 4th film as director, THE GREEN INFERNO, mired in all kinds of distribution fiascos, he turned his attention to KNOCK KNOCK, a remake of the 1977 thriller DEATH GAME.
Keanu Reeves, still sporting his JOHN WICK stylings, is work-from-home architect Evan Webber. Devoted husband, loving father, you know the drill. When wifey and kids venture to the beach for a weekend away, Evan stays at home to finish a project. Then one stormy night two stranded, scantily-clad women, Genesis and Bel (Lorenza Izzo and Ana de Armas respectively), knock on his door looking for help and shelter from the storm. Turns out they're insane and he's stupid and before you can say 'that's my worst nightmare' Evan's peachy existence is turned upside down. - In a nutshell its HARD CANDY meets THE STRANGERS. Sort of.
While it sounds all kinds of horrific it's a considerably restrained outing from the prominent goremaster. The stakes come from the unravelling of the girls composure, the gradual unveiling of their true psychotic personas and not, as is usually the case with Roth's films, the escalating gruesome violence. No spraying arteries or savaged organs here. In fact, there's next to no blood-letting in KNOCK KNOCK full stop.
It's intensity & thrills over blood & gore then, which is as much a departure for Roth as KNOCK KNOCK is for Keanu (who'd have ever thunk we'd see Neo in a horror film?) and to his credit it's nice to see him stretch his wings. It's a little more grown-up and a little more of a refined output tinged with acidic humour. While it's not as immediately subversive as HOSTEL it has its moments that remind us it's Roth at the helm.
Izzo and Armas are having a blast as the batshit-crazy femme fatales. Roth has seemingly given them carte blanche freedom in their performances, allowing them to dial up their cuckoo antics to an eleven. Sometimes it suits and other times they are so over-the-top it's obnoxious and cringeworthy. Reeves, on the other hand is...well, it's Neo in a suburban thriller. Woah.
KNOCK KNOCK is essentially a low-budget home-invasion thriller where the attackers play the long-con over a couple of days and not one night, drawing out the victims anxiety and dread and, at times, has the viewer with fingernails firmly in the arm-rests. Not much of a side-step for Roth but enough that this film is certainly worth a spin.